Finding a Home: LGBT Talk ‘Safe Spaces’

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Nate Hayes has lived in Appalachia since childhood. He calls Athens, Ohio, his “favorite place in the world.”

“And yet, my partner and I would not walk into Walmart holding hands,” Hayes said. “We (do) not live in a safe enough world for that.”

After 49 people were killed in the Orlando shootings one week ago at a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) nightclub, the question of “safe spaces” arose for the gay community, including those in Athens.

Hayes has been trying to do his part since December of 2014, when he opened Athens Uncorked, a wine bar on Station Street. Though he didn’t open the bar to be an exclusively LGBTQ spot, he wanted it to be a place to feel comfortable, no matter what.

“As a gay person myself, I do have to admit that part of the desire to create an adult wine bar in Athens was to give the LGBTQ crowd a safe place to bring a date and somewhere that they’d never have to worry about anything,” Hayes said.

The bar hosts “Cheers & Queers” in partnership with Ohio University’s LGBT Center. Hayes said he and center director delfin bautista are working together to bring LGBTQ events to the area.

But more than having just one place to meet, Hayes said having an entire community that accepts people as they are will make the difference when it comes to the LGBTQ community feeling safe. This was even something Athens Mayor Steve Patterson touched on at a vigil for the Orlando victims.

“We are strong, we are Athens strong,” Patterson said as he promised inclusivity within Athens.

Columbus resident-turned Meigs County resident Alexander Brunton agreed that a more inclusive community brings more benefits than just an exclusive club. He said in this region, discriminatory comments are part of the landscape that needs to change.

“If you work with the public, and you deal with the public all the time, you hear what they say non-stop,” Brunton said. “You kind of know that, for a lot of (LGBTQ) people down here, that’s the reason they’re hiding who they are.”

Hayes grew up in Appalachia, so he says he has a different perspective of it than those that live outside of the area, but he says homophobia and even “perceived homophobia” can send the message to the gay community to avoid the area.

Brunton finds his community in Huntington, West Virginia, rather than close to home. But he would rather spend time closer to Meigs County, and see more “open minds and diversity.”

“It makes everything better to see that everyone has a different mindset of what they want to be,” Brunton said.

Hayes is optimistic about the future of safe spaces for LGBTQ, saying “hope springs eternal.” Brunton said the events in Orlando and trying to live his life in Appalachia have given him a new perspective.

“I’ve learned that you have one life and we are going to die one day, and I’d rather walk around…and be happy with that, than hiding somewhere knowing that I can’t be who I want to be in public,” Brunton said.

Hayes said raising awareness and a willingness from all communities to stand up against discrimination of all kinds are the most important things to create a safe space.

“What is going to do something is…if (community members) say ‘wait, what did you just do, you can’t yell that, that’s not cool,” Hayes said. “I think that’s the kind of change we need to see.”